Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death both in the UK and worldwide and costs the UK economy around £6.7 billion every year. It has a major impact on workplace wellbeing and needs serious consideration when planning workplace health management.
What is cardiovascular disease?
Coronary heart disease, heart failure, heart valve disease, hypertensive heart disorder, congenital heart disease, cardiac arrhythmia and cardiomyopathy all fall under the umbrella of cardiovascular disease. These are a range of heart disorders with a range of causes from birth defects to the hearts inability to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. Other problems are caused by high blood pressure, valve dysfunction that restricts the flow of blood in the heart, irregular heartbeat and inherited heart disorders.
- Smoking – In comparison to non-smokers, smokers are at twice the risk of heart attack. Because the lining of the arteries are damaged by smoking, this leads to the build-up of fatty deposits and the carbon monoxide in the smoke reduces oxygen intake into the bloodstream. This results in the heart having to work so much harder to get oxygen around the body.
- High Cholesterol – poor diet and alcohol consumption contribute to increased cholesterol in the bloodstream and also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, an additional risk factor. This is aggravated by obesity and weight gain.
- Diabetes – The buildup of fatty deposits is often caused by high levels of glucose in the blood – a major cause of diabetes which weakens the walls of the arteries.
- High blood pressure – high blood pressure is brought on by the narrowing of the arteries often caused by both high cholesterol and aggravated by diabetes. Although these are not the sole causes of hypertension, all forms of hypertension present a considerable risk for cardiovascular disorders.
- Overweight – weight problems together with sedentary lifestyle are the two factors that make up the biggest difference in heart disease risk once they are addressed. The combined risk factor once reduced has such a substantial domino effect on the other factors that they should be considered a priority in lifestyle education.
- Sedentary lifestyle – An inactive lifestyle often leads to a gain in weight and which forms part of the vicious circle of risk factors. An increase in physical activity alone, dramtically reduces the other risk factors thus improving employee wellness outcomes.
There are a number of workplace factors that affect both the management and could cause the onset of heart disease. Examples include:
- Toxins in the workplace. Common culprits are methylene chloride which is frequently found in paint strippers and related products. Carbon monoxide fumes to which car park attendants are continually exposed and carbon disulphide in the textile and fabric manufacturing industry where viscose rayon is produced.
- Physical hazards in the workplace, such as extremes of temperature such as working out in the open in a freezing or exceptionally hot climate and in industries such as mining with exposure to cold and damp. Other hazardous environments such as foundries also present a risk. These factors in particular place pressure on pre-existing conditions.
- Stress in the working environment is a high ranking factor. The psychological impact where there is a high work load combined with low workflow control is substantial. Shift work is believed to have shown an impact but research continues in this area.
- Sedentary work environments and in particular offices, where employees don’t move about and are physically inactive for most of the day reduce fitness levels and make staff more vulnerable to the risks of cardiovascular disease.
What employers can do
When an employee returns to work after ill health, it may be wise to consider a fit for work review. This will enable the employer to identify positive workplace adjustments that will enable the employee to continue as a productive member of staff. Adjustments such as flexible working hours and change in duties could make a considerable difference to the employee wellbeing as well as provide a cost effective approach in staff health management.
Other considerations are a gradual return to work option and provision for regular GP or hospital consultant visits around working hours. The impact of the employees’ journey to work including the distance and the form of transport taken should also be taken into account.
Additional routes that indicate employer excellence are the provision of wellness promotionand health surveillance. Bringing strategies such as these to the workplace combat absenteeism and provide access to primary health care services that an employee may otherwise struggle to engage with.
It is imperative that employers have at least two members of staff that are capable and qualified in providing emergency CPR and other first aid related duties. This will also mean stocking a first aid kit with relevant equipment.